Apple Watch 2: do we actually need one?

OPINION: with all watchOS 3's handy upgrades, perhaps a Watch 2 isn't even required

UPDATE: We ran this back in March. It now seems even truer. What could Apple do to the hardware of Watch that it can't do with watchOS upgrades? Judging by WWDC 2016, not much.

I'm a keen watcher of the wearables space, who's frankly not convinced it's ever going to deliver on its early promise. I didn't think there would be a Watch 2 tonight, and there wasn't. Okay, given that WWDC is all about software, that doesn't exactly prove I have psychic powers, but still… Why would Apple be in a hurry to put out a Watch 2?

• Our favourite smartwatches are here (spoiler: Apple Watch wins)

• Read our Apple Watch review while you're about it

Everyone's casting around for a killer app for smartwatches. Apple's made Watch part of its ResearchKit/HealthKit suite of products, for tracking the symptoms of chronic disease, it's beefed up the Activity fitness app and supported third party fitness apps by allowing them to run in the background. It's making it a controller for its HomeKit smart home products.

Has any of that made you think, 'I have GOT to get me one of THOSE"? Thought not.

I reckon Apple Watch does not sit all that high in Apple's list of things it gives a crap about. It doesn't really need to: it's a decent product that ticks along, ho ho, and probably delivers very decent revenues from accessories.

Nobody can claim Watch has failed, any more than they can claim it's set the world on fire. It came out 14 months ago, it's been the best smartwatch you can buy ever since, and it's made a billion dollars. "That'll do," seems to be Apple's corporate reaction, and really, why not?

Watch doesn't need to be like other Apple products, on their 12-month hardware update cycles. The relative simplicity of wearables means that putting out a new one with a better screen, camera and processor makes much less sense than with phones and tablets. How much better could they possibly be, and to what useful purpose?

It doesn't fit with the market Apple wants to be in, either. Nobody 'upgrades' a luxury mechanical watch, or a piece of jewellry every year.

Watch, then, is more of a Trojan Horse, letting Apple scuttle into new areas: yes, perhaps the health field, but also the luxury and fashion markets, both of which were closed to it before.

Apple's 'thing', before Watch Edition (aka, 'the gold one') was affordable premium, not luxury. John Lewis, not Louis Vuitton. This is new territory.

Now sure, if you ask most fashion movers and shakers what they think of Watch in private, they'll largely give you a pretty bitchy reply. Of course they do: they're fashion people.

Ask a high-end Swiss watch brand other than TAG Heuer what they think of Apple Watch (most of them aren't even aware of what Android Wear is) and they all but laugh out loud and tell you not to waste their time with such nonsense.

People in the watch trade think wearable tech is a load of crap, made for kids, that will soon go away. Admittedly, they thought the same about Japanese quartz watches, nearly causing the demise of the mechanical watch trade… But that's another story.

However, the fact is that Watch is in Selfridges and Dover Street Market, it was on celebrity wrists, at least for a certain period after launch, and the truly 'luxury' gold one has sold, if only to impossibly vulgar Chinese nouveau riche types, who want it for their dog.

Nobody can deny Apple has made a qualified success of Watch, but the question is, where can it go next with it?

Apple could experiment with a different shape… but it's so hard to picture Apple putting out a round-screened device. It is the King of Rectangles with Curved Corners. So what would an Apple Watch 2 need to be?

If the health market is one Apple really wants to go after, perhaps a Watch 2, when it eventually appears, might have a larger number of very accurate sensors, so it can better track the symptoms of chronic illness, allowing patients to manage their conditions better.

But it's very hard to imagine Apple marketing a product like that. Why would Apple want to give up its position as the pre-eminent style smartwatch in order to be stocked next to built-up shoes and asthma inhalers? Does it really want to get into a world of intense regulation and matters of life and death? It just doesn't seem plausible.

As long as the main consumer use for smartwatches - and this goes for Android and Pebble as will - is the ability to count your steps and be told that someone's messaged you, Apple might as well just continue to hone watchOS and release new straps and metal finishes for the existing Watch.

The new watchOS 3 looks like a huge improvement over what came before. It doesn't transform the experience of wearing a smartwatch but it sure as hell hones it. watchOS 3 - and watchOS 4 and watchOS 5, when they come - could make your Apple Watch feel like a new device. Maybe, in the wearable market, that's enough.